If Public Employee Pay Isn’t Keeping Pace, Blame Unions

AP Photo/Mike Stewart

(The opinions expressed in guest op-eds are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of RedState.com.)

Despite an agenda calculated to lavish billions of taxpayer dollars every day on his benefactors in organized labor, a story published during August in the Washington Post suggests that government employees are faring no better under Joe Biden than Joe Sixpack.


The story, headlined “Government workers feel inflation’s pinch as wages lag,” cites just-released numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor revealing that wages in the private sector rose by 5.5 percent over the past year — the highest increase in the history of the data — while wage gains for state and local government workers rose by only 3.4 percent.

“It’s really striking how much wages are trailing for public-sector workers,” said Guy Berger, principal economist at LinkedIn. “The sector is not doing great. When you talk about sectors that are booming right now, it’s not just one of those.”

What the story works hard not to address, however, is whether the disparity represents a temporary trend or a permanent swing of the pendulum.

In fact, even if private-sector wages do seem to be increasing more rapidly in the short term, they have a long way to go before the workers who actually produce the nation’s goods and services — and tax revenues — catch up with those who only consume them.

As recently as 2017, the Congressional Budget Office concluded government employees earn 17 percent more than their counterparts in the private sector. The discrepancy can be explained by recognizing the CBO’s numbers compare total compensation — including the gold-plated benefits packages that come with a government position — while the WaPo story refers only to wages.


But that isn’t the only major consideration omitted from the article.

For one thing, there’s the whole question of basic economics. While the story spotlights several public employees and tries to make the case that they aren’t being paid what their labor is worth, it is an often-unpleasant reality that, by definition, no one can be underpaid in a free-market economy.

While the Spokane, Wash., legal secretary profiled by the Post may not be satisfied with her $39,000 salary, there’s nothing keeping her from accepting a better offer. If she doesn’t, it’s likely because she hasn’t yet received an offer that exceeds the total compensation package she’s currently receiving.

Or perhaps she hasn’t gotten any offers at all.

In either case, a worker isn’t underpaid just because his or her value is determined by market forces rather than the arbitrary calculation of a fellow bureaucrat.

But even more pointedly, why should government employees expect to be insulated from the ravages of double-digit inflation when their unions are arguably the largest single reason Biden sits in the White House with his preposterous economic policies the law of the land?

Since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME affirmed that public employees cannot be compelled to join a labor union or pay dues to one, tens of thousands have opted out. But millions more have thus far been either unwilling or unable to break free.


Meanwhile, during the 2020 election cycle, labor organizations pumped $27.5 million into Biden’s presidential bid, compared to just $360,000 for incumbent Donald Trump. In return, Biden has assiduously kept his campaign promise to be the most “pro-union president you’ve ever seen.”

His gratitude has manifested itself in countless ways, from firing the Trump-appointed Labor Relations Board counsel within minutes of taking the presidential oath and installing a union crony in the position to larding his signature Build Back Better infrastructure proposal with union giveaways to allowing teachers’ unions to rewrite the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines during the COVID pandemic.

Apparently, the one blessing his union allies haven’t (yet) received is dispensation from the economy Biden and his union cronies have ruined for everyone.

If government employees are really tired of seeing their paychecks eroded by inflation, the most direct solution is to opt out of the union unashamedly enabling it.

Not only will keeping dues dollars in their own pockets rather than those of the labor moguls and their pet politicians improve the workers’ personal finances, but it will make the unions more accountable to the members they claim to represent.


If public employees find themselves losing ground economically, the answer isn’t simply to hand them more money. It’s to enlist their support in eliminating the reason why.


Jeff Rhodes is the vice president of news and information at the Freedom Foundation. www.FreedomFoundation.com


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